Another Day in the Park


When you say “the Park’ in Interior Alaska you are talking about Denali National Park, 120 miles down the Parks (no relation) Highway from Fairbanks. And the first few weeks of each spring, the Park is open to private vehicles as far as Teklanika rest stop, about 30.7 miles into the Park. It’s not most scenic stretch of the road, or the stretch that offers the most critters. But it’s still a treat, and a fine day trip from Fairbanks. And there is certainly both good scenery and good critters.

Denali looms over the foothills, from the crest between the Sanctuary and Teklanika Rivers

Denali looms over the foothills, from the crest between the Sanctuary and Teklanika Rivers

Any day in the Pak youcan see the Mountain is a good day. There was a slight storm cap over the south peak, but even at 20,000 feet the humidity seemed low enough that the Mountain enever really shrouded itself, as it often does.

While the charismatic megafauna are what everyone wants to see – the Easy Four (Moose, Caribou, Grizzly and Dahl Sheep) and the Hard Four (Wolf, Lynx, Wolverine and Black Bear) – it’s the smaller prey animals that are most important to the Park’s ecology. The humble Arctic Ground Squirrel, for example, feeds Wolf, Arctic Fox, Grizzly and a variety of raptors.

Arctic Ground Squirrel, Savage River Canyon

Arctic Ground Squirrel, Savage River Canyon

But the Easy Four were on hand, too. It was a hot day, although there was a brisk wind. The larger critters are still in their winter coats. So most everyone big was napping through the heat of the day.

Caribou Bull napping, Denali National Park

Caribou Bull napping, Denali National Park

Higher up on the hillsides, it was cooler and probably breezier, so the Dahl Sheep were  bit more active.

Dahl Sheep, Panorama Mountain, Denali National Park

Dahl Sheep, Panorama Mountain, Denali National Park

It’s not much fun visiting the Park between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the 531,000 visitors are clogging the roads and facilities. The Grizzlies get bald spots from being stared at so much. But the “shoulder” seasons, and especially spring season, are pretty nice. And worth a visit.

But don’t tell too many folks or it will get more crowded.

 

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